There are currently half a dozen blooms on the three rose bushes in our front yard. They’re not the full, sultry blooms of high summer, but they still unfurl defiantly against the grey November sky, shaking off raindrops as they stretch wide.
They’re in for a nasty surprise. We’ve been living a mild fall — 50’s, sunny, only the occasional rainstorm. But this week, the cold arrives. It’s supposed to drop below freezing tonight. So they say. So it feels.
In September I wrote that I was not ready for summer to end. And I wasn’t — I let it go begrudgingly, kicking and screaming the whole way. But the sunny fall eased me into the next season, soothed the transition.
This weekend — just in time, it seems — we got the house ready for winter. Mulched the flower beds, brought in the delicate potted plants, turned off the outdoor hoses so the pipes won’t freeze and burst. By Saturday evening, there was a damp bite to the air, the kind of chill unique to the Northwest. We went inside and pulled on sweaters and turned up the heat.
Maybe it was the act of physical preparation, but I feel ready. I feel ready for extra comforters, for nutmeg and allspice, for the windows to fog up from brewing soups. I’m ready for hibernation and creativity, snuggling up and letting the mind wander.
The cliche about Russian novels being so long because of the long winters — there must be a truth to that. Dark nights inspire the imagination to run amuck.
Six months ago, I announced that I had finally, finally found the living room paint color: Benjamin Moore Light Breeze. It took me months to find a color I was happy with (along with a zillion paint swatches applied haphazardly to walls), but I landed and started painting. I wasn’t entirely sure about the color at first, but it quickly grew on me. After a few weeks, I was in love.
So why, you may ask, has it taken me six months to finish?
Partly laziness. I’ve been painting the living room / dining room one wall at a time, section by section. Yes, I could have devoted an entire weekend to it and just finished the job, but it seemed somehow easier to steal 2 hours here, 3 hours there, and just go wall by wall.
The larger reason? I didn’t feel ready to commit. What if I made the wrong choice? What if this color — which looked so great in the dining room — looked terrible in the hallway? In the living room? Would it look boring to have the entire living area one color? Would it turn the house into one big room? Was the color cool enough, chic enough, to commit to having it on ALL the walls? WHAT WOULD PINTEREST THINK?
I thought I landed on a solution — the dining room and hallway would be Light Breeze, while the living room walls would be white. It’d break up the space, create some separation. Still, I hesitated.
And then I was browsing Benjamin Moore colors online, and saw a combo that made me pause. It made me “ooh” and “aah”. I asked Byron, and he said, “Sure, go for it.” But I still wasn’t convinced. Had I seen other blogs do something similar? Was this an “ok” thing to do? Would I regret the end result, immediately hate it and realize I could have done better?
Finally one morning, I realized: it’s paint. Just paint. The worst thing that could happen was I wouldn’t like the color, and I’d have to paint over it. That was literallythe absolute worst thing that could happen in this scenario.
Isn’t it funny, these small dilemmas that we build up to be so big in our heads?
So this weekend, I finally finished painting.
Most of the living room I finished up in Light Breeze — the back wall I painted Benjamin Moore Day’s End. A deep charcoal with blue undertones. It satisfies my original desire for bold color, plays beautifully with the yellow in Light Breeze, and makes the living room feel like a cozy cave. My own little retreat.
Am I in love with it? I’m not sure yet. But it’s done — a decision was made. I went with my gut and forgot all the rest. And at the end of the day, that’s sometimes just what you need.
At this point, we’ve been in The Rambler for about a year and a half. We’ve made quite a bit of progress, but none quite so dramatic as the backyard. When we moved it, it was a crazed weed-land jungle:
It looked like an ogre had stampeded through the yard, pulling out trees and throwing the limbs around wily nily. Not a pretty sight — and NOT a fun place to hang out.
Well, in September, we opened up a can of whoop-ass. We threw all those tree limbs in a wood chipper (not Fargo style), hauled in three yards of compost, and tried to tame the wild beast that is the Backyard.
And now — nine months later — we have this:
WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT?? It’s a lawn! A real, green, plush Eco-Lawn, with little plantings around it, and a bed off to the side with hostas and a baby maple tree! And adirondack chairs, and a small dog tied to a horseshoe stake because we still haven’t managed to complete the fencing!
(It should be noted that two days after this picture was taken, a mole came and erupted three large holes smack dab in the middle of the baby lawn. Thanks, reality, for the check.)
Working in the backyard now, it feels like a place you’d want to hang out. That trio of fir trees behind the adirondacks? That’s where the hammock colony lives. And off to the side — there’s the barbecue that Byron will be manning, next to the table and chair set we purchased last summer and haven’t had any opportunity to use. Maybe we’ll actually use that horseshoe stake for horseshoes. Once it finally gets dark out (at 9:30pm, because we live in the Northwest and Northwest summers are the best), the fire pit is ready to be pulled out for toasting s’mores.
Sometimes life can feel like one long slog, one long day of hard work after the next — but then sometimes, you actually see the payoff of that hard work, RIGHT THERE! Right there in front of you. I’ve been feeling down about my writing as of late, down about the book… but looking at the backyard, I remind myself that hard work can pay off. It’s not a guarantee, of course — but it’s the only way to get any sort of results. You gotta put in your time if you want to enjoy the hammock colony.
There are some house projects that you think are going to be awful and turn out to be not-so-bad. Some house projects you think will be easy breezy and turn out being stab-yourself-in-the-eye terrible. And then… there’s painting.
I actually don’t mind painting. I love the immediate, dramatic change. I love how it alters the character of a room. Yes, it can be a total pain in the ass (see kitchen cabinets), but the end result is always worth it to me.
Back in my dormitory and apartment-renting days, I always swore that when I finally had a place of my own, I’d paint it with COLOR! Bold, bright, lots of color. Every apartment manager known to man seems to use the same drab beige. You get so tired of it. I dreamt of the day I could choose my OWN hues.
Well, it turns out there’s a reason every single apartment is painted that same drab beige. It’s easy, it’s neutral, and OMFG CHOOSING A PAINT COLOR IS HARD.
Poor Byron. Over the course of several months, I bought and brought home no less than 6 paint samples and slapped them on the walls. Our living and dining room don’t get a ton of direct light, so it tends to feel a bit cold in there. I initially thought I wanted to go BOLD yet warm, like a nice flax or goldenrod. But once I got that up on the walls, I realized that a) color looks a lot bolder when it’s IN YOUR HOUSE, and b) our house is small. Even in just a tiny section, bold color seemed to swallow up the room.
So I switched courses, seeking something lighter, a nice neutral that would work as a background for art. Grey is super popular right now, but you guys, we live in Seattle. There is already too much grey for my liking. Long story short (a story that takes us through beige and grey and greige and something with a weird pink undertone), I finally landed here.
Benjamin Moore Light Breeze. Not too dark, not too light, not too boring — a nice golden hue with the tiniest hint of green that immediately warmed up the room. Finally, the search was over! Success! After some procrastination, I slapped it up in the dining room.
Except… You guys. I’m driving myself crazy. Now that it’s up, I keep staring at it and thinking, “Is it too yellow? It seems so yellow. Or maybe too dark? Does it clash with the art? Should I have gone with an off-white? There are a lot of off-whites… OMG there are a LOT OF OFF-WHITES and I don’t want anything too boring, but is THIS THE RIGHT ONE?”
I explained these thoughts to Byron, and he gave me a weird look and said, “Your brain sounds like a terrible place to be.” Thanks, babe.
Last night, I looked at the walls and said, ok, enough is enough. This is the paint color I have chosen. If only for the fact that I bought a frickin’ gallon of it. It’s going up on the walls.
I keep telling myself that with time, I’ll get used to it and come to love it. Byron likes it. Everyone who’s seen it says they like it (UNLESS THEY’RE LYING). I’ll paint the hallway and living room, and then everything with look cohesive. Clean and warm. I will accept this, and move on.
And then I’ll have to choose paint colors for the bedrooms. What have I gotten myself into….
Sunday marked our one-year anniversary in The Rambler. We celebrated by… well, to be honest, I think both of us forgot. Byron ran a half marathon that morning, and I spent the entire afternoon baking a cake. So, you know. Priorities.
I do feel the need to mark the occasion in some way, though. This is our first house, the first thing we’ve truly owned together (besides a cat, but let’s face it, that is a low-investment item). And damn it, we’ve worked our asses off this past year. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but from what I can remember, these are the projects we wrapped up this past year:
Replace the old leaky roof with a new non-leaky roof (ok, technically this was the week before we moved in, but I’m counting it).
Replace the “definitely will kill us” electrical box (done about an hour after we got the keys).
Repair bath tub plumbing.
Repair the “someone obviously tried to kick this in” back door.
Finally, FINALLY get a new couch and trick some college kids into paying us $50 for the old couch.
Put a rose bed in the front yard.
Paint the shed in the backyard and start the Hammock Colony.
Replace the old oil furnace with an energy-efficient heat pump.
Rent a wood chipper, go crazy and install a lawn in the backyard (which, ugh, is now FULL OF WEEDS! WHY, CRUEL WORLD, WHY!).
Fix up and paint the hole-ridden interior trim (newly finished as of Monday! woot!).
Geez. I am exhausted just LOOKING at that list. We knew the house was going to be a project when we bought it — and obviously, it has been. One project after another. But weirdly, it’s for the most part been incredibly satisfying work. Hard work, yes — most of those projects, we completed on our own (and I’m sure Byron would like me to note that he has done most of the hard hard work). But it’s really cool to see a house transform before your very eyes, from “this has potential” to “this is starting to come together.”
I have no idea how many more house-iversaries there will be — who knows, by this time next year maybe we’ll be living in Switzerland with Swiss cats and puppies (unlikely, but YOU NEVER KNOW). But in the meantime, it’s nice to see the hard work paying off. We’ll wrangle you yet, Rambler. One project at a time.
This past weekend, a miraculous thing happened: we had an entire afternoon with no plans on the calendar. Nowhere to be, nothing to do. Well, nothing planned to do — the house needed picking up. But it ended up being the “ok” kind of housework, where you just get in the zone and get shit done. We fell into a rhythm, puttering around and cleaning, talking to one another from different rooms, listening to the radio in the background.
At one point we were both in the bathroom, Byron wiping down the sink and me looking at the shower, which I had cleaned earlier that day. When we bought the Rambler, the shower was advertised as “new!” Well, technically yes. It was a new, shoddily installed shower with obvious gaps and really questionable caulk work (really, so much of our house is basically an advertisement for “hire a professional, yo!”).
As I studied the shower, I said, “Byron, I’m a bit worried some of the shower isn’t sealed correctly and water’s getting behind the panels.”
“Oh yeah, it definitely is,” Byron said.
Oh, well, ok then. “So do we have to worry about mold?”
“Oh good, another project.” I shrugged. “Add it to the list.”
“This song is appropriate,” he said.
I must have given him my ‘huh?’ face. “Listen to the lyrics.”
I did — and I laughed:
What do you know? this house is falling apart
What can I say? this house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart
Well, yes. That about sums it up in a nutshell. But what can you? We had a quick dance party in the bathroom, then moved on to the next task at hand. This never-ending project of a house may throw curveballs at us, but we’re creative, resourceful, and we have each other. We’ll pull this place together.
When we moved into our house this past December, the backyard was… well, a bit of a disaster. The ivy and morning-glory had been allowed to take over, and it was apparent that the previous owners had been using the place as their own personal dump (as evidenced by the buried trash and bones we kept uncovering… fun).
I somehow got the idea in my head that we’d be able to get the yard 100% under control by summer. Can we all do this together: HA HA HA HA HA. Man, where did I get that crazy idea?
But, slowly but slowly, we’ve been pulling it together. Earlier this summer we took out an 80 foot tree. And this past weekend — finally, FINALLY — we achieved my dream of making this wild jungle-land begin to resemble a good old-fashioned blue-blooded American backyard.
Of course, there had to be big-ass machinery involved. The first step in the process was to rent a wood chipper and destroy all the slash piles that lay scattered about the yard. Which, UGH. “Annoying” is a good word to describe that process. After sitting in our yard for six months, the slash piles did NOT want to budge. The pine needles had turned into a sort of glue, holding all the branches together. BUT, the good news? We didn’t find any rat nests! Which I was 99% sure would happen. So I’m counting that as a MAJOR WIN.
(One big thing that the wood-chipping reinforced? We have awesome friends and neighbors. The neighbor to the south of us let us borrow some machinery. The neighbor across the street saw that we were working and came over to help “just because.” My dad came over to help drag slash piles around. There’s nothing like several hours of tedious labor to reinforce that you have a lot of awesome people in your life.)
After the limbs had all been chipped (oh yes, we now have a HUGE PILE OF CHIPS sitting in the front yard… next project), we turned to the lawn. We decided to put in a small Eco-Lawn to act as a sort of focal point for the rest of the yard, bordered by various drought-resistant plants.
Putting in a lawn from scratch is… well, it’s not hard, per se. Just kind of a pain. There’s the composting, the rototilling, more composting, more rototilling raking, smoothing, seeding. A lot of steps that all add up. And at the end? You just cross your fingers and hope that it all worked. I keep peeking out the window, waiting to see little shoots of green. We’ll know in 7-14 days….
But even without the grass sprouting up yet — you guys, what an improvement.
It’s actually starting to look like a yard. It’s starting to look like a space where we can kick back and relax, barbecue, play horseshoes, invite friends over and entertain. All the potential that we saw when we moved in, it’s starting to become a reality.
This past weekend I drove over the mountains and escaped into the Methow Valley, an unbelievably relaxing strip of land tucked within the north Cascades. I ate way too much food and saw a crazy amount of deer and looked up at crazy close stars and in general had a great time.
Meanwhile, back at the home front, this was happening:
No, I mean, not really. I knew it was happening, and it was fortuitous I was gone for the weekend, because chopping down 80 foot trees? Not my thing. But fortunately it is some people’s thing, and logger-man Sam came and chopped down this tree for us, while Byron served as ground crew.
This ol’ Doug Fir HAD to go. It was planted about five feet away from our house, and about twenty feet away from the neighbor’s house. Its root system had already been compromised on both sides (most recently when we put in the French drain). Basically, it was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to crush one of our houses.
So how do you take down an 80 foot tree that’s right next to two houses? Slowly. In sections. It took Sam and Byron twelve hours to get this bad boy down. Sam would climb up there, cut a section, then send it via rope down to the ground. We have an INSANE pile of tree debris in the backyard right now. (Crazy tree debris covers up the crazy weeds. Silver lining?). Byron gets to spend the next couple weekends chopping up chunks of tree for fire wood, and sending the rest through a wood chipper for mulch.
Now that this sucker’s gone — OMG I can’t BELIEVE how much more sunlight we get back there. This tree was on the north side of the property, so we didn’t think it’d affect much, but now the backyard is just filled with soft pretty light.
Looking at the stump, half-heartedly attempting to count the rings, I can’t help but feel a little sad. I think about how long that tree’s been around, how much it’s “seen”. Like I said, we really had no other option but to take it down. But it really does stop and make you think how impressive something as simple as a tree can be.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a Rambler update. Small little developments, all adding up… a bathroom fan finally installed, the beginning of the hammock colony, the slow and steady weed invasion taking over the backyard…
Oh who am I kidding. All I really want to talk about is NEW COUCH NEW COUCH NEW COUCH.
You see, friends, we’ve had this one couch for 4 years. This one couch? I hate this couch. It is green and it is leather and the stuffing keeps trying to come out and the cushions NEVER stay put (in fact, they actively slide out as you are sitting on the couch). Anyone who has ever come to our house and sat on this couch has also hated it. And sleeping on it? Remember those sliding-out cushions? HAHAHA YOUR CUSHIONS CAME OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Joke’s on you. In fact, the only GOOD thing about this couch is our cat likes to sleep on the cushions. So, green-leather couch = cat-approved, NOT human-approved.
But it was also a FREE couch. So for 4 years we made it work.
BUT NO LONGER.
LOOK AT THAT! LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL BEAST OF A COUCH! An amazing Craigslist find by my internet-scouring husband. It is so long that there is 25 feet* between man and cat (*may be a slight exaggeration). It has cushions that stay put and it is not GREEN LEATHER.
It probably seems silly and materialist, but getting a couch that we actually like — that was not a hand-me-down — seems like such a great step forward towards feeling like an actual functioning adult.
I also fear New Couch may be a huge step backwards on the sloth-like tendencies. But I don’t even care. I am gonna lounge so hard on this thing.
I mean, that’s the gist of this story. Your one-sentence summary.
If you live in Seattle, and if you’re me, when the sun comes out you cannot resist the urge to say, “OMG GO OUTSIDE NOW DO ALL THE THINGS!”
So, we did. We got a free lawn mower (thanks, Craigslist!) and mowed the front lawn. We fertilized the sad rhododendron (DO NOT DIE ON ME). And we continued to tame the wild forest that is our backyard.
Can I even tell you how much trash was hidden amongst all that ivy? I seriously think some neighbor saw it and thought, “Well, they’re never going to find ANYTHING in that,” and just started chucking things over the fence. Old peanut butter jars? License plates? Rags? Check, check and check.
Byron was being a total amazing trooper and pulling out the last dreadful patch of ivy, and I was kind of half-assedly moving some dirt around with a shovel. And then I saw what was very clearly a bone.
You know how I joked that we hadn’t found a body buried in the yard? First thought: “Holy shit there IS a body buried in the backyard.”
And then I sat back and studied the thing and… well, it didn’t really look human? I mean, I don’t study a lot of human bones, but I just can’t think what part of the body this would come from. It’s kind of shaped like a fat T, and about the size of my fist when I ball my hand up. I poked it with the shovel and saw the hole in the center where once, long ago, there must have been marrow.
Me to Byron: “I just found a bone.”
Byron to me: “Huh, ok.”
Alright, he was still cursing ivy, so I let his disinterest slide. But as soon as he finished wrestling the GIANT ball of ivy into the yard waste, I said, “So…did you want to see that bone?”
We tromped back to the spot and Byron looked down at it. “Yup, it does look like a bone.”
“But what is it from?”
“Probably a cow or a pig.”
“…THERE’S A COW OR A PIG BURIED IN MY BACKYARD?”
“No, like someone was eating a steak or pork chop and threw the bone back here.”
He seemed pretty confident. I remain unconvinced. But you know what? I really just don’t want to know. If there’s a bovine carcass in my backyard, it can stay there, buried, WHERE IT BELONGS. I don’t want to find a hoof poking up among the azaleas.
And then I thought, what if it is human? What if amongst all that plastic wrap there was a body? And I came to the same conclusion: nope. Don’t want to know.
I’m not totally sure what that says about me as a person — that I’m ok with a hypothetical body staying buried in my yard. I think I’ve just settled on the conclusion that I’m lazy and don’t want to deal with a homegrown murder mystery. But let’s be honest — that’s not too much of a discovery. We already knew that.